How I’m preparing for the new 2015 MCAT

I finally registered for the last MCAT date of 2015! Now comes the hard part, figuring out an effective study plan. Le sigh.  I think I’ve mentioned before in my blog that I have been a long time lurker of SDN. This site has been an invaluable source of information for me in regards to MCAT prep and the medical school application process. Fortunately for me, the SDN community is really dedicated to helping each other out. Several SDNers have already taken the new MCAT in April and have shared their experience with studying for it. Based on what I have gathered from these test-takers, I have compiled my own study strategies for this exam that I wish to share.

 Background:

I registered for the Sept 12, 2015 exam. The exam is at 8 am and I’m not a morning person. I majored in human biology and have taken at least two upper division biology classes that were taught solely through scientific papers. I also took biostats.  I did not, however, take college level psychology or sociology; though I did get a 4 on my psych AP test.  Also to be noted, the study of human bio incorporates a lot of pysch and socio by default. I took an introductory biochemistry class. I had to retake Orgo 1 and I’m terrible at physics. Seriously, it was the only high school class I got a B in and as an all As AP student, that was a very traumatizing event. Then in college, I kid you not, the only formula I knew 3 weeks after starting the class was F=ma.

Resources:

For this exam, I will be using the complete TBR package. I purchased the set last year when I thought I was going to take the old MCAT before it changed. I will also be using the 9th Edition EKs complete study package.  Those are my primary two resources for content review.  For practice tests and questions, I’ve decided to purchase the 3 EK practice exams, the AAMC full-length exam, the  AAMC question packs,  5 gold standard full lengths, and khan academy practice questions.

Total cost and links:

The Berkeley review complete package (minus the verbal reasoning book): $276 + shipping . Note: TBR does not have an online order option. You will have to mail in an order form. So if you would like to acquire these books, make sure to mail in your order form a month or two before you plan on actually studying for the exam.

9th edition EKs complete study package: $175- 205$.

EK practice exams: $150 , or $50 each.

AAMC full length exam: $25

AAMC question packs: : $72

AAMC  120 practice questions: $10

5 Gold Standard  full lengths: $ 175 for 3 months access. Or, individual tests: $20 for 1 month access/ $40 for 3 months access.

Khan Academy: Free!

Now the moment we have all been waiting for…

Study strategies:

1. Develop a study plan

It helps tremendously if you sit down and outline your study plan based on the study materials you have at hand. Fortunately for you guys, and me, several study plans have already been developed from awesome SDNers that I will post below for reference. Hopefully, you find one that works for you. Keep in mind, you could definitely tweak some things around to make any one of these plans a better fit; or really, just develop your own.

1. EKs home study plan : This is provided directly on the EKs site for the 9th edition complete study package.

2. EK Schedule – 4 Month: This is the plan I will be utilizing. This plan was provided by SDNer Medicine4The3rdW. According to him, he made this plan using, “SN2ed’s original 4 Month schedule but modified it for ExamKrackers”.

3.  EK and TBR study plan with Kaplan supplement: This plan was provided by SDNer mcatjelly.

4.2015 MCAT STUDY PLAN : This plan was provided by SDNer BoomBoom1232. According to him, he made this plan using, ” a 2015 adaptation from @SN2ed‘s and @mcatjelly‘s (above) study plans. Materials required: EK, TBR, Kaplan complete set, and Next Step Psychology and Sociology 2015 book.

5.  101 days MCAT study plan: This plan was provided by SDNer littlebear92. She provided this study plan and the materials required to follow this plan within an SDN forum. There was no stand alone of downloadable copy of the plan.

2. Incorporate daily scientific paper reading

According to what I have read from the April 2015 test takers, this new test is heavily focused on Biochemistry and passage comprehension.  The passages are research heavy and will require a good understanding of how to interpret scientific data and results well enough to answer questions. Of course, understanding the topics discussed in each passage is important but equally ( and maybe even moreso)  important is becoming familiar with reading and drawing conclusions from the data (i.e percentages, tables, graphs, etc) presented within scientific passages. To gain this familiarity and become comfortable  reading science dense passages,  I’ve decided to read one scientific paper a day. The cool thing about this is that it can be done anywhere and isn’t too time consuming! You could pull up a paper on your bus ride to school or work. Or,  instead of going straight to sleep after a long day at work, you could briefly read a paper and make something of an otherwise unproductive day . It’s really not that bad! Plus, it’s important to get into the habit of reading scientific papers.  As a physician, you will  be expected to stay up to date on current research and clinical trials in your field of expertise.

One way to  achieve this goal of reading a paper daily is just using google scholar to find journals or papers.  Another option, and the option I have chosen, is to download the “read” by QxMD app. This app allows you to pick MEDICAL journal/research topics of interest and will  conveniently present them to you on your phone. I don’t know about you, but I always have my phone within arms reach so this option is best for me.  The link for the app is provided here.  I have not started using this app, so I can not give you a complete assessment on the quality of the papers or the app itself. I will say that I have already customized my interests and I’m pleased with the list of papers and journals I have been presented.

3. Revamp my sleep schedule

There is already a blog post about my horrible sleeping habits.  I’ve decided to revamp my sleeping schedule to optimize brain power during my actual test date and time. I’m never fully awake before 11 am. I don’t trust people who smile before 9 am.  In college, I would take a red bull or two to survive those early morning classes and exams. The effect would eventually wear off, but by then I would have the option of going home.  With this upcoming six hours exam, it’s really important for me to develop that mental stamina and focus in the morning without the temporary aid of sugar or energy drinks. For one, energy drinks are diuretic agents. Or at least, they are to me. So, having to take a portion of the exam doing a sitting “pee dance” is so distracting and not ideal. I think if you leave the exam room before the break period, you have to void it? Not sure, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be lenient about leaving the room. Also, I never eat breakfast. So, typically when I drink an energy drink in the morning it’s on an empty stomach. This always makes me queasy and uncomfortable. With the stress of the exam already an issue, any discomfort should be avoided.  That being said, I need to become more of a morning person! I need to wake up early, eat breakfast, and be able to mentally focus in the morning if I plan to succeed on this exam.

To do this, I’ve decided to set a strict bed time of 10 pm and a strict wake up time of 6 am everyday.  Hopefully, after a month of transitioning, the process won’t be so pain and I’ll be mentally prepared for my 8 am exam.

 4. STOP WITH THE DISTRACTIONS

I get distracted easy. I get a notification “beep” on my phone and then 2 hours later realize I spent the entire time on facebook. Or, I’ll come home and work out while watching an episode of criminal minds and realize a few hours later that I’ve watched 3, 45 minute episodes. Some say moderation is  key, I think for me just  stopping the habit completely works best. Therefore, no more facebook, no more netflix or irokotv, no more instagram, basically no more accessing the internet without a predetermined and study related reason. Of course on designated break days I will allow myself to fully indulge. But if I don’t cut off  any form of distraction on study days, September will roll around, and once again I won’t be prepared to take the exam.

After I take the exam in September and get my score back, I will definitely let you guys know how I did!

Medical Scribe-AHHHH!

I landed the job I’ve been wanting for several months now in February. I’m a certified medical scribe. On paper, the job sounds pretty amazing. You get first hand insight on what it’s like to be a doctor. You work 10-12 hour shifts alongside an MD, get to observe bedside manners during doctor-patient interactions, learn medical terminology, and practice writing a concise HPI and charting. What you don’t realize until you start the job is how stressful it really is.

My first day of floor training, I shadowed the chief scribe for perhaps the first 4 hours before she relinquished the reins to me. To say I felt like I was drowning is an understatement. I remember coming home that day wanting to just quit all together. My doctor sees several patients a day and usually dictates at around 200 wpm. I got the job despite being upfront about my mediocre typing speed, so I thought, “hey, I can do this.” Boy, was I wrong. I type around 56-63 wpm and could hardly keep up with my doctor. I was expected to be done with each chart a minute or two after my doctor and I left the room so that he could review it and sign off on it before we entered the next room. The only problem was, I would miss entire sentences of dictation! I remember several occasions in which I was still typing up one section of the chart, while my doctor had already moved on to dictate another. It was so frustrating. We would leave the room and the five minutes or so between patients was spent asking the chief scribe, who thankfully accompanied me into each room, to fill in blanks here and there. If the chief scribe had no clue what was missed, I had to ask the doctor. I’ve come to find my doctor is super nice, but at the time I was very intimidated by him; so, having to ask him to repeat things really added to my frustration with myself. I remained in a state of chronic frustration because on top of being a slow typist for the job, the environment is naturally high-stress, and breaks are pretty much non-existent. At the end of that first day, my doctor had to review several of my charts after the clinic closed as opposed to reviewing them in-between patients as per the goal. As a result, he had to stay an extra hour or so. I felt so inadequate. I went home and was planning to quit the next day, but my mother knocked some sense into me. She told me if I planned to quit every time things got hard, I should consider a career change now. Of course, mom is always right. I’m usually not a quitter but that first day was nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I felt so drained, both emotionally and physically. Fortunately, I’m really good at faking confidence. My chief scribe and doctor may have read some frustration coming off of me, but I smiled through the whole day and just kept doing my best to improve.

A few days later, we had an all scribe meeting for the scribes working at my clinic. It turns out, I wasn’t the only one who felt my doctor talks really fast and had a difficult time keeping up with him. I was encouraged by other scribes to not feel bad about asking him to repeat himself. The truth of the matter is, we’re not doctors. A lot of the medical terminology and medicines make us pause while typing and those few seconds are all it takes to miss paragraphs of dictation – at least that’s what I’ve reassured myself, haha.  I have been scribing now since February. I still experience some level of anxiety every time I have to work. However, on the plus side, I’m progressively becoming a better scribe. I don’t think my typing speed has increased any but I have found ways to compensate. For one, I work for a specialty clinic, so I’ve become familiar with the common treatments, medicines, and procedures. They no longer make me pause. I’ve also become more familiar with the way my doctor dictates. I’m lucky in the sense that I work repeatedly with the same doctor. He likes to use certain phrases and words. So, sometimes if I miss a word or two I can guess what it was. I’ve also developed my own shorthand. The most useful compensation, I would have to say though, is an improvement in my multi-tasking and short term memory. I still sometimes find myself typing up one section while my doctor is dictating another. However, unlike before, I’m capable of listening and retaining new information while I type up old information. That has been INCREDIBLY useful! Now, I can generally finish my chart within those 1-2 minutes after leaving a room. I still get behind occasionally, but I’m happy to report I’ve been greatly improving.

My doctor is so understanding! He gets that this job is just a stepping stool and is willing to work with his scribes. If he has a lot to dictate, he will usually hold off dictating in the room and will wait to do so outside or at the end of the day so that he can speak markedly slower. He’s also incredibly nice and just overall fantastic! Not only does he feed me (major brownie points for that) but he has introduced me several times to his patients as a,” future physician of America, and a great addition to the team.” It’s encouraging to hear those words from the MD you scribe for- especially if you plan to eventually ask him for a letter of recommendation. Haha.

I really do hope to start excelling at this job soon. In the meantime, I’m learning all I can, and doing my very best!

Hello world!

It’s refreshing to be re-introduced to the blogging world. I used to own a blog way back in high school. My blog then was a perfect reflection of who I was at the time: very vibrant, very unorganized, and just overall, very unrefined. I’d like to think I’ve changed a great deal since then and that this new blog will reflect a classier, more mature version of myself. Only time will tell but one thing that has remain unchanged since my high school years is my utilization of writing as an escape. When my life gets too hectic, I’m ready to either shrivel up and hide or eat my emotions. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, face my emotions, and stay level-headed. It helps me keep my eyes above the waves. This is precisely the reason I have picked up blogging again. I am venturing into deep waters. My life as I’ve known it has become increasingly hectic, and my coping mechanism is to cradle my pen to my chest like a toddler would a stuffed animal during a storm. This blog will deal primarily with my pre-med/medical school journey and my faith in God. I have no reservations sharing this journey. I’ll try to stay focused and relevant when I write, but fair warning now, I tend to go off tangents and just write what’s on my  mind. However, I do have a personal blog for more self-centered reflections and will try my best to keep the material on this one grounded.  Now the only thing left to be said is take the plunge, get your feet wet, and enjoy the ride!